WHAT IS AMAZING BY HEATHER CHRISTLE
finished reading this book today in soho square, finally been able to read after months of not reading & being busy with easter break, going back to singapore, final term essays and exams. feels really nice to be able to read again. read most of this on the tube during the long bank holiday weekend and in some parks when we were having a picnic and also after the psych paper. today i was reading this aloud and a dog came and sat next to me. crispin lent me this book
i think this book was written before ‘the trees the trees’ which i read last year. what i remember liking about heather christle’s poems is the way she plays with sentence structure or the relationship between subjects and objects within a sentence, transitive verbs & intransitive verbs, verbs that determine whether the object of the sentence is present, and what that means. i feel like her poems are almost deceptive in how simple they seem at first but then it always sidesteps its original direction & the images lay upon each other from within & repeat themselves without actually repeating itself. another thing is that i feel like there is a finality in her poems or at least that if there are questions asked or some kind of seeking there is an attempt to resolve the search and i appreciate that i think. i’m typing this with the book next to me looking for lines that i liked and they are all so very good
i’ll be me and you be goethe
i want it be winter and i want to change
the color of this room This room should be
a blue room and it should be freezing
but ventialted and I in my medium snowsuit
irresistable I know because everything I do
I do to get more beautiful so you will want
to love me in the cold and indoor morning
I had a group of friends
who were anvils
they could not be recycled
I had been lying down for ten years
I neede time to think
I told the anvils
after they played a joke on me
Not cruel but not kind either
I was sensitive
I was a girl
Ten years later I was a woman
but more like an anvil
who could think and could love
in one direction at a time
and so had to be carefully positioned
because of all the effort
the opening and focusing of eyes
And what if I love the wrong thing
You can’t take it back
It can’t be recycled
Not like paper
Not like this dark glass
Always I am in danger
People might step on me
I might get moved around and then what
How will I ever get home
A Very Remarkable Story
this is the first four lines from ‘a very remarkable story’, i was reading this again today and it’s something i feel like i want to remember maybe, i was thinking about the way she uses language, and how, by saying ‘how will i ever get home’ you presuppose you already have a home / a place you belong to / a place where [speaker] is not presently at, felt like this was very effective use of language i think
she does this again here with
Locked out of the cloud
my fright concentrates itself
within me like stars
A person is layers of instants
covered in dirty blue feathers.
I mean her consciousness is that
and in this warm darkness me too
and when people flock into each other
we achieve action and block out the sun.
What is it, anyway, to look?
It is to vanish some parts to a hum.
that her fright has an implicit causal relation with the cloud i think is very beautiful that image has been stuck in my mind all day, and then it concentrating itself, that is also very beautiful to me
“to look, is to vanish some parts to a hum”, that is another line that stopped me when i read it, if only to reconsider what she meant, and what looking meant to me. i always like it when anyone redefines a word/term in their own way and expanding your understanding of the concept in doing so. i feel like her images all hum, with meaning and they are not afraid to mean something. and with each of her poems she is saying something new
haha it is 3am i feel like i could keep writing about her poems all night. in more detail maybe. i want to go back to doing literature. i wish i did lit for university. seems stupid that i’m doing politics and law. i care only minutely about those things in comparison to language and literature
Blank road and then trees like a corridor
begin. How does that happen. How funny
for anything to start. It is the edges
we use to make art, but that is tough:
we live in the middle and so little in fact
seems to end. This dull continuous world!
Though a horse I think gets distinguished:
it runs, it knocks a loose blossom down.
i feel like there is so much in this poem, it is so rich. i’ve always felt drawn to the image of trees lining an empty & quiet road which you can’t see the end of but i feel like i’ve never thought of it as a corridor, ie. closed off & open only in one direction. that was interesting to me. and then, the statements that are true, how does that happen / how funny for anything to start / which i feel like are things i have thought about lately, all the time are involved in things that are happening and are in the middle parts of it & don’t see the narrative portions of a beginning or an end until it is over or until we name it, as a beginning or an end. and she talks about that too, i think ‘the edges we use to make art’, the edges of a narrative, that beginning & end portions and how that is what we pull out of day-to-day images for a story if only in our heads. i really liked this one
I travel all day with a window before me
me a blushing bag
the world a pretty din
glass is the part I don’t see
while all day apparent the sky
to which I’m no closer
from which I’m disbarred
the stony sky blank and unmoved
the air I breathe in was once Caesar’s
to what do I owe this dim past
to the glass I’m a peasant
to the sky I am some kind of riddance
a driver behind a safe wheel
w/ lakes to the side
a putative blue
i really loved this poem as well, this & a poem jerrold yam sent me for galavant issue 2 about being on a train as well to me seemed to express in ways that i have never been able to, how i feel when i am on a train. i feel like i like being on trains more than i like buses or planes and things. i like being able to see where i am going but also feel like i am going at a speed fast enough to be going somewhere and not have the ‘vehicle’/thing i am traveling on stop every few minutes. i feel like i have a destination i guess, like i am leaving somewhere for somewhere else. anyway / ‘window before me’ / ‘glass is the part i don’t see’/ ‘while all day apparent the sky to which i’m no closer’ / feel like these are all really sharp observations, felt happy reading this poem, like i was on a train again
.. oh soldiers your children are glowing
at such a great distance
they seem more like thoughts
under the moon the knocking
i was sitting in the square today thinking about this, how to me this felt interesting, that by losing physicality (and seeming more like thoughts) a once-physical object (children) begin to glow // that i guess thoughts, or things i think about, maybe, fantasies, images of a thing, instead of a thing, those seem to sustain itself/live on longer than the thing itself
which i guess is something that she talks about in the next poem / page i just flipped to i remember reading this while lying on the futon when meggie & michael were around, and we were looking at takeout menus
The window is dirty I lean
via dirty shadows on the floor
Thank you fo the evidence
which I prefer and vastly
to the thing
the thing itself
and i know not what
I am the evidence of
though I am here
and leaning desperate
to prove it
For years I have been on duty
in this my body
and this its mind
and no one has told me
when relief might arrive
but I think it will come
all at once by the hundreds
it will be a real parade
it will surround me
with great noise
and with slowness
and coral and yellow and green
do you know what time is like
it is like you are a pile of wool
and they tug and spin from you
until you are yarn
is why we become upright
all the tugging
too when we slee[
we go loose
and i will tell you
another part darlings
and that is
your self is the sheep shorn apart
Directly at the Sun
the other one i love best from this book has the lines ‘the water is no longer working it won’t make me beautiful just wet and the same’ which is from the poem more swans and more women i feel like i know that line by heart now just because it began raining when i was reading it and also because i like water a lot
finally these lines from the title poem ‘what is amazing
“One’s goal in life sounds like
a match put out in water
You might not know you’ve done it
but for the sudden lack of light”
finished: 17 may 2013
DIRT BY DAVID VANN
finished reading this book in a cafe near el raval, while it was raining outside; i had previously read caribou island which is also a book by him and felt excited when i found this book in waterstone’s near ucl
the plot—a seemingly normal 22 year old boy lives with his mother and has not gone to college; his mother’s mother is losing her memory, and lives in a home where nurses take care of her. his mother’s older sister and her seventeen year old daughter are interested in getting the inheritance/money from the trust fund which galen (boy)’s mother has control of. their family has had a history of abuse; galen’s mother’s father used to hit both his wife and his daughters. galen’s grandmother and mother deal with this by not talking about it. galen has never had sex before. his seventeen year old cousin, jennifer, is aware of this, and continually ‘tempts’ him. galen is interested in ‘new age’ beliefs, or the belief that detachment from the world is the way out of pain. he starves himself, makes himself throw up, his thoughts consist mostly of his hatred of distractions/desire to achieve some kind of purity of ‘soul’ / mind. the four of them go to a cabin with his grandmother. his mother and aunt fight a lot, he has sex with his cousin and his mother sees him in the ‘throes’ of an orgasm. his aunt and mother fight over the money and his aunt manages to wrangle the checkbook out of his mother’s arms, and she writes herself a check for two hundred thousand dollars. galen is angry that his mother had so much money and didn’t let him go to college. she doesn’t say anything immediately, but after they send their mother back to the home, she sits galen down and says she wants to tell him something important. that he has to understand what she is doing. he says a lot of horrible things to her while she is trying to talk about her life, before he was born. she then says that she is going to report him for statutory rape, and he is going to prison. she runs to the kitchen and tries to grab the phone, galen panics and runs after her. she screams and runs into the shed in the garden and he says stop, don’t please i am your child. she says no you are going to prison, and then he locks the shed. what happens next is that she tries to escape and he starts shoveling dirt into the shed. she finds a shovel and tries to push the dirt out and he uses his hand to push it back in and she smashes his hand. he gets angry and decides to find nails and wooden planks to board up the shed. she starts crying and says please we can let this go you don’t have to go to prison. then she starts crying for water. and tells him to find the cheque book she hid inside a piano and that she’ll write blank cheques for him. he gives her the cheque book and she says let me out and he says fine i don’t need the money. she asks for water, he says no. he goes to lie down in the bed and wakes up finding her trying to start the tractor. she fails. he gets scared. she stops making noises, and two days later he tries to open the shed and then he does and he finds her motionless, body still warm, but dead. next to her is a cheque book, completely signed. on the last page she writes ‘please, i love you.’
felt sick after reading this book, which was the way i felt after reading caribou island. david vann’s prose is slick, it isn’t ‘pretty’ or ‘poetic’ but clean, ‘deft’. clarity, i think, that makes the train of thought understandable, even if the final action is unbelievable, or horrifying. he does the same thing in caribou island, leading you to believe that [one thing] is the central plot line, only for that to unfold and then be put aside, without it being a turning point at all
the building unease & final horror i felt at the end is the immediate effect of his writing, which i think is the way i felt when i look at gaudi’s cathedral this morning, and only after recognizing that emotion, am i able to ‘appreciate’ that i am feeling anything at all, and see past the emotions [book]/[cathedral’s aesthetic] makes me feel
i think part of the horror, or revulsion comes from the ability to identify with galen, the way he tries to distance himself from the things around him/the need to remove himself mentally, solipsistic almost, or how i have in the past, felt like i wanted to ‘take things too far’. in the last few chapters (where his mother is trapped in the shed), galen keeps thinking i wish i could take it back, or that it would just go away, that this never happened at all, but he knows it can’t, and so continues with it, ‘takes it all the way’, just because the consequences aren’t immediate, which mirrors the earlier act of sleeping with his cousin/not thinking about the consequences then
another thing that i was thinking about, while walking away from the cafe, was about galen’s relationship with his mother, and what she says to him. since being in barcelona / not seeing my mother for six months then seeing her again on this family trip, i haven’t been getting along with her, notice things about her that i previously didn’t, small holes in her shell, or notice that there is a shell that she moves beneath to begin with. or that, if she wasn’t my mother, i’m not sure i’d be interested in her. but then realize that.. the only reason why i feel that way is because i know her so well/have lived with her all my life. and she still puts up with all the shit i throw at her, and that i can’t even begin to imagine what her life was like before she had me. and that all you can want from a child is for him/her to love you the way you did for their entire lives. made me feel bad about not talking to my mother / wouldn’t ever want, if ever i did have children, my child to feel the way i feel about my mother towards me
when galen’s mom tells him that she is going to report him to the police, galen notices his mother, feeling [something], edgy, giddy almost, and then realizes that what she is feeling is excitement, excited that he was going to go to prison. while reading this i thought, that description is so accurate, and then tried to relate to that, when i have felt ‘excited’ that something is not going someone’s way, but then felt like that wasn’t it, the excitement wasn’t because someone you didn’t like is experiencing something bad in the future, but a situation more specific than that, and that that is the way i feel when i am playing a game, like chess, and i’ve made a move that will allow me to win, and there’s no way out for the other person, and you’ve had a part to play in the other person’s demise but that excitement isn’t about [the other person] but about yourself, some sense of achievement. idk felt good about david vann expressing that/identifying that sentiment so acutely
parts i dog-eared
‘we’re just going through the motions, galen said. what’s that? his aunt said. our whole lives, galen said, just reenactments of a past that didn’t really exist. the past existed, his mother said. you just weren’t there. you think anything that isn’t about you isn’t real.
‘pain itself an interesting meditation. on the surface, always frightening, and you wanted to run. very hard not to move, very difficult, at least at first, to do nothing. pain induced panic. but beneath the surface, the pain was a heavier thing, dull and uncomplicated. it could become a reliable focal point, a thing present and unshifting, better even than breath.’
this part, about forgetting that need to remove yourself
‘galen tried to keep his focus on a carrot and the way it crunched in his teeth. he could feel it sever, all that solidity cracked through in an instant, a clue to how one might get the world to slip for a moment. removal from the world. distance. that was what he needed. it was awful how quickly he could forget that.
‘the bare bulb and its harsh light made it seem that if you removed his grandmother, you’d have to cut her from the fabric of the world and there’d be a hole left. each of them felt that way to galen, as if all were two-dimensional, flattened, and lodged in place. jennifer with her arms still folded, looking down, unmoving, stationary. his mother with deeper lines than he had noticed before, as if her lips were separate from the rest of her face, something added. her eyes buried in sockets too large. the waves of her hair something sculpted and not attached. she looked fabricated, put together in pieces, invented. galen felt the unreality of her, felt it for the first time as something immediate and undeniable. she raised her glass again to her lips, but even that movement was jointed. the world put together with some kind of ratcheting action, each piece pulled into place under tension, all of it threatening to snap. galen wanted to leave. he wanted to get away from this table. this table felt extremely dangerous. he understood now that what held his family together was violence. but he was locked here, glued in place, unable to move. he could only watch, and the movement was his mother’s glass, and his grandmother’s glass and palm moving in slow circles, and the wavering of the light.’
i’m having figs for lunch, he said.
i have something to tell you.
well i can hear from up here.
she set the tray down on the wrought-iron table. galen could see the table’s leaf pattern, and it seemed lovely to him for the first. heavy and old, but lovely.
i’ve made a decision, she said.
i can’t wait to hear.
you were all my world once upon a time, she said. you really were. i wanted a baby. i don’t know why. and if i could go back now and make it never have happened, i certainly would. but for a time there, having a baby was a magical thing.
thanks, he said. for that part about wanting to go back.
shut up and listen. i’m giving you a gift right now. i’m letting you know the whole thing.
galen wanted to scream, but he felt a little afraid, too, so he only readjusted lower on the limb, found a more comfortable position in a tree with one of the main trunks. holding the two figs in one hand.
i saw the world opening. i’m not sure what i saw, exactly, or how i could have believed any of it, but maybe it was something like imagining how we’d play in the walnut orchard, playing tag through the trees. yellow mustard and wildflowers, and laughter. maybe something like that, from the best moments of my own childhood in the orchard.
she wasn’t looking at him. she was gazing off the orchard, and she had her teacup held in both hands, but just floating there, not drinking from it.
this is sounding like an after-school special, he said.
you want to make everything small. that’s what you’ve done. you’ve tried to make everything small. but i’m going to continue on anyway, because this is important to me. it’s important to me to let you know, just this once.
fine, he said.
there was some feeling about it, some feeling about you. it was like that christmas-morning feeling, something really as innocent and pure as that. what i imagined was joy. and i think what i wanted, really, was to remake my own childhood. i wanted to go back and fix everything and live it the way it should have been.
his mother still hadn’t looked at him. it was disconcerting.
there was supposed to be a man. and i thought i had found that man, but when i told him i was pregnant, i watched everything just fade and die. it was less than a minute. it really was that fast. everything he had felt for me just went away.
who was he?
he lost that chance. he doesn’t get to be named or have anything told about him except the one part that matters, that he let everything just die in less than a minute. that’s all you need to know about him.
that’s real helpful. the daddy-minute. it explains so much.
it explains everything. it explains the truth about men, the trust that they care only about themselves. and you’re not different. i thought maybe you’d be different. that’s what i hoped.
this is all such self-serving crap. you should fucking listen to yourself.
that’s right. straight to the fuck words. all violence. that’s who men are.
yeah. fuck your mother. a favourite insult. but i’m not letting you take this away from me. i’m here to tell you a story.
once upon a time.
that’s right. once upon a time. because it was a fairy tale. i believed you could be good.
galen hated this conversation so much.
i spent all my time with you. all my time, for years. i helped you learn each word. just think about that for a minute. i helped you learn every single word that you know.
galen tried to focus on his exhales, tried to calm.
i helped you learn every sound. how an s sounds, how a z sounds. how a p is different from a b.
well thanks, galen said. if that’s what you’re looking for, thanks for all the instruction.
shut up. you need to listen. today you only listen.
you’re going to listen today, because i’ve made a decision, and you need to know what this decision is. and i want you to really understand it. i want you to know why i made it.
well let’s just get to it then. what’s the decision?
no. i want you to understand first.
that’s right. look at it however you need to. but shut up and let me finish.
fine. do tell.
where was i? she put her teacup down, put her palms flat on the table, looking at her hands. okay. i watched how every expression developed. how you laughed and forgot to laugh, how you smiled and how that smile twisted up and changed, how your temper and crying became your anger, although i have to admit, i don’t understand your anger. your anger is something foreign, something i can’t see coming. your anger is part of how you’re no longer mine.
so you’re only claiming the good parts?
no, i’m just tracing things. and there’s a gap there. and it’s the gaps that make you someone i can’t be with anymore.
is that the decision?
no. it’s related. maybe it is the decision, actually. maybe that’s the fundamental thing, that i don’t want you in my life anymore, but it’s not the decision i need to tell you about now.
well about fucking time.
there’s more i need to explain. i haven’t even started really. because you’re going to be angry, and you’re going to feel betrayed, and you’re going to believe it’s unfair, and you’re going to think it’s about me and not about you. but i want you to understand and i need you to know that it really is about you.
this is driving me crazy. you really are crazy.
no i’m not. and you won’t call me crazy again.
crazyland, galen said. that’s where you’ve lived for a while now. look at you with your fucking afternoon tea and sandwiches. think for a second about who else plays make-believe all day. who is it who plays make-believe all day?
i’m not going to let you distract me.
think about it. children play make-believe all day, but who else does that? what adults do that, and where do they all live together? galen’s mother looked up at him finally. that’s been your gift to me, she said. to call me crazy.
the nut farm. you grew up on one kind of nut farm, but now you’re ready to live in a different kind of nut farm. galen liked this idea, but he stopped, because he didn’t really like to see his mother hurt. that was always the problem. she deserved to be treated worse, but he could never do it.
i’m going to live right here, she said. but you’re not.
is that the decision?
throwing me out on the street, like you were threatening to at the cabin? even though you’ve been taken care of your whole life?
let me continue, she said. i’m trying to tell you that i loved yo. i loved you your whole life, and i tried.
you were my mother. that’s what you were supposed to do.
you don’t understand anything.
no one made you have me.
she shook her head. i’m not going to let you do this to me.
yeah, because i’m doing such awful things to you right now. i’m the one making threats, saying i’ve made some kind of life-changing decision.
i tried even when you became like this, even when everything you did was ugly. i tried to still love you. i tried to forgive you. i tried to let you become whatever you needed to become, even if that meant you lived at home all your life.
like you have.
let me finish.
you don’t get to finish if everything you say is crazy. i on;y have to listen if what you say is reasonable. i don’t have to listen if it’s crazy talk.
i hate you. i hate you so much.
fine, he said. he dropped his two figs and climbed down out of the tree. that’s great. you’re a great mother. you’ve really improved on things from your past, just like you wanted to.
galen’s mother was crying without sound, in great hiccups of breath. she could hardly speak. i shouldn’t hate my own child, she said. i know that. but i hate you.
well you won’t have to see me anymore. i’m moving out to the room above the shed.
galen’s mother began to smile. it was the strangest thing. she was still crying, but she began to smile. she sucked in breath, and what she did was laugh. instead of crying, she was laughing at him.
what? he asked.
you don’t understand, she said. you have no idea.
well stupid me, then. you’ve been so clear.
she was smiling. you think you can just move out to the shed, and that’s going to be it.
yeah. i’m moving to the shed. you’re not going to see me, but you’re going to give me money for school and food and other things too. you’re going to stop fucking up my life.
the shed is not where you’re going, she said.
i’m moving my stuff right now. he began walking toward the house.
you’re going to prison.
galen stopped. he had this feeling of heat rising all through him. did you just say prison?
how am i going to prison?
OK THAT WAS REALLY LONG, WELL, THE POINT OF THAT REALLY IS, (besides how good at writing dialogue david vann is), DON’T REVEAL YOUR TRUMP CARD BEFORE YOU PLAY IT
started: 20th march 2013
finished: 5th april 2013
BONSAI BY ALEJANDRO ZAMBRA
quotes/parts of the book i liked:
In the story of Emilia and Julio, in any case, there are more omissions than lies, and fewer omissions than truths, truths of the kind that are called absolute and that tend to be uncomfortable. Over time, of which there was not much but enough, they confided their least public desires and aspirations to each other, their disproportionate feelings, their brief and exaggerated lives. Julio confided to Emilia matters that only Julio’s psychologist should have known about, and Emilia turned Julio into a kind of retroactive accomplice for each decision she had taken in the course of her life. That time, for example, when she decided that she hated her mother, at fourteen: Julio listened attentively and opined that yes, Emilia, at fourteen, had made a good decision, that there had been no other possible option, that he would have done the same, and without doubt, if back then, at fourteen, they had been together, he certainly would have supported her.
The relationship between Emilia and Julio was riddled with truths, with intimate revelations that rapidly established a complicity that they wanted to understand as definitive. This, then, is a light story that turns heavy. This is the story of two students who are enthusiasts of truth, of scattering sentences that seem true, of smoking eternal cigarettes, and of closing themselves into the intense complacency of those who think they are better, purer than others, than that immense and contemptible group known as the others.
They quickly learned to read the same things, to think similarly, and to conceal their differences. Very soon they formed a conceited intimacy. During that time, Julio and Emilia managed to merge into a single kind of mass. They were, in short, happy. There is no doubt about that.
”Tantalia” is the story of a couple that decides to buy a small plant and keep it as a symbol of the love that unites them. They realize too late that if the plant dies, the love that unites them will die with it. And as the love that unites them is immense and they are not willing to scacrifice it for any reason, they decide to lose the little plant in a multitude of identical little plants. Later comes the despair, the misfortune of knowing they will never be able to find it.
She and he, Macedonio’s characters, had and lost a little plant of love. Emilia and Julio – who are not exactly characters, though maybe it’s convenient to think of them as characters – have been reading before shagging for months, it is very pleasant, they think, and sometimes they think it at the same time: it is very pleasant, it is beautiful to read and talk about the reading just before tangling legs. It’s like doing exercise.
It isn’t always easy to find, in the texts, some impetus, however small, to shag, but in the end they manage to locate a paragraph or verse that, when whimsically stretched or perverted works for them, gets them hot. (They liked that expression, to get hot, that’s why I use it. They liked it almost enough to get hot from it.)
But this time it was different.
I don’t like Macedonio Fernandez anymore, Emilia said, shaping her sentences with inexplicable timidity, a she caressed Julio’s chin and mouth.
And Julio: Me neither. I enjoyed it, I liked him a lot, but not anymore. Not Macedonio.
They had read Macedonio’s story ina very low voice and talked on in a very low voice.
It’s absurd, like a dream.
Because it is a dream.
I don’t understand.
Nothing, just that it’s absurd.
started: 21 march 2013
finished: 21 march 2013
really loved this book
and glad i read it
VOYAGE IN THE DARK BY JEAN RHYS
bought this book from a second hand store in stratford-upon-avon, finished this today while working at the gallery. this is the second book i’ve read by jean rhys, the first was wide sargasso sea which i did for my A levels
anna is a nineteen year old who works as a stage girl in england and meets an older man & they have a brief tryst and then he leaves her and she feels desperately in love with him but is in a helpless position, that is how i would sum the book up
i felt like many of the themes were similar, the main character being constantly aware & self-conscious of her racial difference and feeling like an outsider / being rejected by her object of desire / motifs of fire & cold, it almost felt like the same voice (but of course) / reactions to somewhat similar situations seemed identical / except WSS was set in the jamaican islands & this was set in london / it was interesting to read about the tube, camden high street, flats in marylebone, tottenham court road etc which are places i walk around often now
here are some quotes i underlined because i felt like i could empathize even though i think i probably wouldn’t express [these emotions] this way
he said, why do you ask me the one thing you know perfectly well i won’t do?
i didn’t answer. i was thinking, ‘you don’t know anything about me. i don’t care any more.’ and i didn’t care anymore.
it was like letting go and falling back into water and seeing yourself grinning up through the water, your face like a mask, and seeing the bubbles coming up as if you were trying to speak from under the water and how do you know what it’s like ti try to speak from under water when you’re drowned?
‘i imagined myself saying, vey calmly, ‘the thing is that you don’t understand. you think i want more than i do. ii only want to see you sometimes, but if i never see you again i’ll die. i’m dying now really, and i’m too young to die.’
another warning not to treat people as an anchor / and that asymmetrical desire is maybe one of the things that can make you feel the worst / better not to want at all / and i’m glad i’m not in a situation like this / i hope i am never in a situation like this again
probably the part of the book i most strongly identified with was when she spends a night with the man for the last time and then leaves
‘i got out into the street. a man passed. i thought he looked at me funnily and i wanted to run, but i stopped myself. i walked straight ahead. i thought, ‘anywhere will do as long as it’s somewhere that nobody knows.’
finished: 21st february 2013
YOU PRIVATE PERSON BY RICHARD CHIEM
i ordered this book in december before i went to america. i remember being in ben’s room when he handed me an envelope and i had forgotten what i had ordered and then felt pleased when i opened the envelope and saw this. i began reading it last week
i didn’t know what to expect or what this book was about / had not previously read anything by richard chiem / i like having no preconceptions of a [book] / author’s work / i also feel like, lately maybe, i ‘gravitate’ towards short stories over novels
remember feeling immediately pleased at what i was reading and took a picture of the first page (animals with expressions) & sent it to ben because i wanted him to know what it was i was reading
these stories to me feel timeless, by ‘timeless’ i mean the denotation of the word, literally i guess, not referring to any particular time. i was talking to someone the other day about how the ability for a [reader (or just me maybe)] to relate to a piece of writing depends on the ability of the writer to navigate between two extremes, that of ambiguity & details. i feel like these stories do that: give enough of the specific details required for it to have an identity of its own, while also somehow still retaining a sense of vagueness, time/place-less, which allows you to imagine that what you are reading is happening to you / allows you to identify & empathize with the characters. this quality seems rare to me but this book has it
another thing i felt was a reason as to why i liked this book was the way the situations / imagery seemed quiet & intimate. i like quiet books, i don’t think the ‘quietness’ of a book depends solely on the things that go on in the peripheral environment, maybe more the way the narrator responds to these things / how observant they are of the things happening around them. after reading the first story (which had a sequence of smaller chapters within it) i felt like the title was good, or described the nature of the stories well, private people, who keep what they are thinking/feeling to themselves. i value that a lot i think
also thought about something i said to another person the other day, when he tried to explain/seemed to want to justify the reasons for his behaviour towards someone else, i said ‘no one but you and her will know what happened between the two of you.’ felt like a lot of these stories were about these quiet/private/intimate moments. like lying down together skin only, or when someone touches your hair, how you want a specific person to touch your hair, or the way the room seems to expand when the person you like most enters / these seem like the things i remember most about relationships, how completely present in that past moment i begin to feel when i try to recall it, and how what i remember are the times spent when it was just me and that one other person / then i thought about a thing that tao lin wrote about almost transparent blue, which is something i think about often now / “I think that scene is ‘touching’ to me because—by seeming to have no purpose except to non-rhetorically relate what seems, to me, like a memory—it promotes, or is evidence, to me, that a single specific experience that doesn’t cost anything, and has no effect on anyone that isn’t involved, and that doesn’t have to be known by anyone else can be ‘worth more’ to a person than years of comfort or love or accomplishment or millions of dollars or the respect and admiration of thousands. That a single person, or two people, using only themselves and each other, can easily create an intense, unrecorded, unshared memory that is more emotional, memorable, and affecting than winning the lottery or getting a masters degree or even ‘falling in love,’ maybe, seems ‘beautiful’ and exciting and affecting to me.’ / this is what i want most from books i think, and also what i feel like i try to recreate in the things i write or photograph
i guess i like how ‘real’ (or true to what ‘reality’ seems to be to me) the emotions in the book seem, not only the emotions that seem commonly written about, like desire/long-distance yearning but also things i have been thinking about, like being aware that the person you’re in a relationship with is a separate person from you & you can’t ever assume his or her thoughts / hence never can assume that how he/she feels towards you will continue for always in spite of how strong it can be at a certain point of time / reminded again that the existence of a feeling can’t be taken for granted / and then, how that makes you feel
the first page i folded was this:
his text message will ask a poem:
(1/2) Are you working? There is a lot you can have by
wanting. In the light I made a bargain. Envisioning
a house where I never lived, you could not
convince me we’d spent but
(2/2) one life together.
HER: Are you awake? Describe the house to me.
mary is a girl that the character richard seems to be in a relationship with. somewhere else the narrator/richard says ‘you are the mary in all of these stories’ and i thought, ‘there is so much love in this book’, like when thom asks ‘so what does mary do’ and richard says ‘she’s an inventor’ and thom says ‘oh yeah? what did she invent?’ and richard says ‘everything, i think she invented everything. but no one gives her credit’
this book made me miss ben a lot / you are the you to me in all of the stories/poems i read/write
‘long-distance love-making is a bitch’. long distance relationships are like believing in God and do you want to believe in God again?
‘i thought, Who the fuck was this girl? where did she come from? she was so intimate and forward and surprising, it made me imagine a good romantic life. i started to see myself in the future surviving harder scenarios. i was getting beaten down by other men. i was in a small car accident. i could see myself near death and still wanting to be alive. there were scenes in my imagination where the only act that happens is her and i surviving and holding each other overlooking the neighbourhood.
she was so intimate to me so quickly, she felt like a time traveler or something. like she was my protector. sometimes we would ditch class together you know? and find a place to hide and mess around.’
i liked the longer stories most, like ‘sociopaths’ & ‘animals’. when i read these parts i thought ‘i would want to read a longer book by this person’.
going to re-read this book again, then lending it to mat & stacey because a couple of us who live in london were hanging out one night and i said what if we started a monthly book club and so now we are doing it. this month/first meeting we will be doing you private person, so i am excited about that, especially since i really liked this book
started: 9th february 2013
finished: 12th february 2013
OTHER PEOPLE WE MARRIED BY EMMA STRAUB
i bought this book, as well as gary lutz’s ‘divorcer’, from st. mark’s
bookstore in new york. i had been tempted with the idea of buying
these books off amazon for a while, but never actually did, so when I
found these books in the bookstore I decided to get them / both of
them seemed to play with the theme of marriage/divorce, which is
something i have been thinking about for a while, the ‘concept’ of
marriage, of stability tempered with an undercurrent of wanting to
leave, and how it seems frightening to be locked into one
position/place/role for ‘the rest of your life’. something my dad
always tells me is that ‘marriage is for life’, that you can’t think
of leaving the moment something goes wrong, because of the vows you
make to each other. i don’t believe in that i think, what i mean is
that i understand that there are consequences, like having to
‘rebuild’ a life after having spent x amount of time with one person,
or the implications it would have on the children, and the emotional
ramifications of being part of a failure. but it seems like if
something no longer works, if love has dissipated and you’re only
staying together for the children, that seems like something i would
no longer want to be a part of. i feel like the idea of being tied
down to anything - even if it may work, although you will never know
what will happen - that seems frightening to me, that my emotions or
actions will have consequences for anyone other than myself, or that
someone else’s emotions & continual support/love will become a thing
that i will depend on. i am glad that my parents have stayed together
despite friction that set in sometime between my teenage years, i’m
thankful for that, aware that it could have happened otherwise, aware
that the way my parents behave have had/still have an immediate impact
on my emotions. anyway, that was why i bought this book, it seemed
like from the reviews i read that ‘other people we married’/the idea
of marriage would be a constant theme throughout these stories,
instead of being the title of one of the short stories
the title story, other people we married, was written in the third
perspective but seemed to mostly track the perspective of the best
friend of the girl who was married. the best friend and the couple
were on a trip somewhere. at first i thought/wanted him to be
harbouring a secret love for the girl, and not being able to express
his emotions because he was also aware that she married someone else.
but that’s just me i think, hoping that the story would unfold in a
way that i could imagine happening to me, me being the outsider privy
to a marriage that wasn’t mine. somehow that also was the way i
interpreted the title of the story, as a reference to a love that
didn’t exist within the marriage, and marriage referring to some sort
of commitment that wasn’t necessarily ‘legal’ or ‘formalized’ by a
wedding. what happens in this story is that the best friend is gay,
hence making love between them impossible; on the trip he hears the
husband and his best friend fighting, and fighting about him. in the
end his best friend, lying next to him says that when her husband
married me, he married her best friend too, that’s what the title
refers to, other people we marry along with the person we marry just
because that one person can’t be separated from all the other people
in his/her lives. after reading the story the title seemed to take on
a new meaning, and i was thinking about that, the people who someone
who marries me would marry as well. besides my family i would think
the only person who has that kind of permanence in my life is eve. a
line from this story also reminded me of something eve said ‘he loved
franny. charles could see that. jim had the sense to love her, and so
charles had no choice but to love him too.’ eve said something along
the lines of ‘but all your family would want for you is to have
someone who values and loves you, and that will become evident to them
over time, the other criteria or desires they have for you will become
minimal in comparison to this.’
another story that seemed to be promising/interesting was the first
story, ‘some people must really fall in love’, about a female teacher
who takes an interest in one of her students. the part i like was this
part: ‘during our daylong diversity training, we were told a story
about a professor who had dated one of his students, only to have the
affair end messily halfway through the semester. it wasn’t about the
law, the diversity specialist said. the question was about grading and
fairness to the other students, we all sat on folding chairs in a room
in the student union, trying not to fall asleep or run screaming from
the room. we were teachers; of course we had excellent morals. at the
time, i hadn’t met paul. i didn’t know they made teenage boys that
looked like him, like actors whose private lives you’d read about on
the internet. someone had seen a boy like him, though. that’s why the
rules were the way they were, it had to be. some people must really
have fallen in love’.
i think ultimately this book was disappointing to me, none of the
scenarios seemed to hold particular uniqueness, not just in the
setting/imagery but the perspective of the characters. a lot of them
seemed to passively accept the circumstances in which they were in /
act in a passive-aggressive way without taking charge / acting in a
way that would change the situation. most of the stories seemed to
flit by, felt like i was skipping through words/paragraphs a lot,
because the words didn’t add ‘depth’ merely length. i liked her
shorter ones best, the longer stories seemed to be unnecessarily long.
i looked at goodreads after i finished this book and it seemed like
many people also felt ‘let down’ by this book despite the good
reviews/’hype’ it had on sites like the millions, the rumpus.. think i
remember reading about this in a htmlgiant post too, but unsure.
probably the two that i enjoyed reading most was ‘abraham’s enchanted
forest’ which was about a girl who lived in a small theme park with
her parents, and would watch as people drove through their forest. but
a regular life otherwise, going to high school etc. only that everyone
in school knew about that, and it made her stand out. i was thinking
about this i think, in terms of wanting to fit in vs. wanting to stand
out, whether they are the same thing. i feel like, an aversion towards
doing something to fit in, like i don’t want to fit the status quo or
do what other people seem to believe is ‘right’/’normal’ if i don’t
believe in it myself, but at the same time i feel a strong aversion to
standing out, or drawing attention to myself. i want to feel
discreet/quiet, that my existence only matters to myself. a line i
liked from this story was ‘he was handsome, but didn’t really seem to
know it. that was the best kind of boy, greta knew. if they’d gone to
the same school, he might still have talked to her in the halls, might
still have looked at her that way’. while reading that i was reminded
of the beginning of never let me go by kazuo ishiguro, when the two
girls are looking out onto the field and think about the way they are
attracted to certain boys. another story i liked was ‘marjorie and the
birds’, about a sixty-ish woman whose husband had passed away; she
joined a weekly bird watching club and begins to, privately, form an
emotional attachment to the person leading the bird-watching group.
conversations / thoughts / ‘flashbacks’ of what it was like when her
children were growing up is weaved into this general story.. but
didn’t really do anything, at least to me, except draw out the length
of the story. still, i liked the ending, when she finds out that the
person leading her group is leaving the city for another job. the
letdown she felt seemed palpable. it reminded me mostly that, i don’t
know, not that people are disappointing, it’s not their fault, but
it’s your fault for pinning hope/fantasy onto another person, when
your feeligns hardly can act as a compass for the collective
experience in which ‘reality’ is formed. your feelings belong only to
started: ~january 2013, after coming back from america
finished: 8 february 2013
DISPATCH FROM THE FUTURE BY LEIGH STEIN
i liked these poems, turning pages each new poem i read seemed distinct and separate from the previous poem, a different context & something else new to be said, an identity of its own, while somehow still visibly written/constructed by the same person / i think that has to do with certain phrases repeating / how most of them are written from the first person’s perspective (her perspective) / managing to be personal or seem to draw from ‘personal emotions’ while being funny without making the humour seem like a gimmick or a way to write off the ‘emotional intensity’. i read this book twice / some books are rightly called ‘rewarding’
some of the lines feel like lines i had always wanted to read from the slips of paper within a fortune cookie / i have always been disappointed by fortune cookies / leigh stein’s poems don’t disappoint like those slips of paper / they don’t make you feel like it was written to appeal or apply to anyone’s life, future, fortune / these poems make you feel like they were written for you
HOW TO MEND A BROKEN HEART WITH VENGEANCE
We stretched a ladder between our second-story
windows and tried to get the dog to go
across to see if it would hold but it didn’t.
My ambivalence must have made the dog fall, I
called across to him. He picked up his tin can
and said, I can’t hear you unless you speak
into the tin cans, remember? What did you just
say? Sono spiacente, I said. Nevermind. Slicha.
You are probably wondering now if the dog’s okay,
but do you think you could stay with me, anyway,
even if I never gave you the answer? This was
so long ago, farther back than yesterday,
when you and I spoke for the last time. You said,
Why did you leave so early? And I said I couldn’t
sleep and you asked me why I didn’t tell you
at the time; you would have hit me on the head
with something hard. Let me ask you, could you
imagine a cloudless sky above a Nebraska plain?
Could you draw it? Could you imagine yellow birds?
Could you visualize the soft sound a door
makes when it closes and sticks and I thought I
had problems, but seriously, look at yourself.
Look. I had this incredible dream last night
and I’m not even going to tell you about it.
In Russia, the young girls who die violent deaths
either end up like birds in Pushkin or like fish
at the bottom of lakes, where they comb each other’s
hair all night long, where they teach each other
the lyrics to every Talking Heads song
so they can lure sailors into their shadowy grottoes
and drown them. They say there once was a rusalka
who wished to be human so badly she gave up
her voice to be with her beloved and of course
he loved her because who wouldn’t love a girl
who can’t talk back, but then one night
at a masked ball he got distracted by a foreign princess
with an elegant neck and the rusalka was so despondent
she went to a witch and somehow communicated, I’ve
never been so unhappy in my whole life. What should I do?
And of course the witch told her to stab him with a dagger,
and of course the rusalka considered it. Like, seriously?
Seriously stab him with a dagger? But ultimately she
decided she would rather lose her human life and
go back to being an underwater death demon.
At least in the opera version the prince realizes
his terrible mistake and goes hunting for a doe
only to find the rusalka in her last moments and
kisses her knowing it means death and eternal
damnation. Here I am now, watching the moonlight
dance across the water in the retention pond, staring
at this scalpel and trying to forget your address.
For Those Who Have Everything, Say It With Concrete
I have been lost before, but not with this many broken bones,
and I had a brighter torch. If you were lying in wait in a cave
like I am, right now, in the darkness, and you didn’t know
when the next sandstorm would be, and you didn’t know
if the next morning the war would start, and you didn’t
know how long your torch would last, would you still
write letters with your only hand that wasn’t useless?
Yes. And let’s say that at this point you still believe
that the person who has promised to come back
for you is coming. Let’s say you haven’t started
to wonder about your flare gun yet and what
it’s good for inside the cave. Can anyone ever
foresee that they will end up like this, in love
with a faceless, amnesiac cartographer?
I have learned from the Sahara the necessity
of white dresses and small airplanes. They didn’t
think I belonged, but I waited my whole life to see
the ancient drawings of the ancient people swimming
in the ancient place. I was not in Italy, swinging
from a chapel ceiling. I was not in Cairo, bathing
in a claw footed tub, because that hadn’t happened
yet. I was just in love with the one person I wasn’t allowed:
you, who I write letters to while I hemorrhage to death
in a place that no one knows exists. It is not on any map.
The map has not been made. I am starting to think that
the only way I’ll ever be found is if you, the cartographer,
trade your topographical secrets, your photographs, your
name, to the Nazis in exchange for a jeep. Please. The light
is fading. If you can’t tell, the picture I drew in the corner
is of a scorpion in an amulet on a chain I wear under my dress
near my heart. This place was once water, but now
it is sand. There is so much I want to tell you, but
I have not eaten in three days and the fire you built
is just cinders. You once asked me how I could be married
to him, but look who died and look who lived; look who I’m
drawing pictures of scorpions for. I can’t feel my legs.
I don’t think you’ll be back in time. Listen: after
you read this, you will be burned in a terrible accident.
You will forget my name and the shape of the land
you spent your life’s work learning, but you will
never forget that you left me to die. My light
is gone. I am writing to you now in the darkness.
started: ~december 2012
finished: 4th feb 2013
FAIREST VOL. 1 WIDE AWAKE
was at little five points two or three nights ago and we walked into a small record shop which also sold comics and i found this on one of the display shelves. felt excited when i found this because i was not aware of the new series
fairest is a spin-off series from the main comic series ‘fables’ which i used to read in 2010 and stopped reading after i got busy in 2011. i highly recommend fables
fairest is about the girl characters like sleeping beauty and snow queen. allows the writers to explore back-stories which the main series does not have time for
seems weird that both fairest 1-6 and fairest 7 begin with male povs even though it’s characterized as ‘about the females’
feel like it wouldn’t be possible to enjoy this without first having read fables
i like the artwork a lot:
finished: 21st dec 2012
HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE? BY SHEILA HETI
this book was on the new york times recommended books of 2012 don’t trust the new york times is my point
i feel like this book should be given a less absolute title or one that specifically applies to sheila’s personal experiences like ‘sheila knows how she should be’ instead of ‘how should a person be’ because after i finished reading this i thought ‘i have finished reading how should a person be? and still don’t know how i should be’
edit: realized it was a question mark/open-ended question and not a statement suggesting she knew how a person should be
felt like all her experiences were valid but i didn’t relate or identify with them. reading this made me feel like sheila/the character being conveyed seemed overtly concerned with her appearance/the way the people around her thought of her & ideas of success. i feel like these are things that matter in a very small trivial sense, like anyone would be aware of what other people around them thought of him/her but that doesn’t mean the construction of your personal identity depended on these impressions. the ‘plot’ or underlying timeline of this book was sheila’s desire to write a play, not being able to write it, exploring other options, moving to new york, having her friend demand she write the play, which surprise, turns out to be this book.
i read blake butler’s vice article comparing how should a person be? and leaving the atocha station? and feel like i came to a different conclusion than he did; he prefers heti’s over lerner’s, i liked lerner’s over heti’s
6. In this way the book does not fail in the way other books that Wood has praised failed in a more egregious way, recently Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, a book essentially about a privileged young man who pretends to hate himself while actually worshipping himself during a poetry fellowship in Madrid.
7. Part of why I hated Lerner’s novel so much was because of how otherworldly and majestic his previous books were. Atocha Station seemed an aesthetic inculcation, a bowing down to try to reckon with a false, inwardly idea of self. A parade of ego and feigned jeering-fawning depression, which regardless of whether or not the author meant it as tongue-in-cheek comes off as Holden Caulfield for prideful academic bros.
8. Both Heti’s and Lerner’s book use seemingly abstruse forms (internet chats, mistranslations, a flat confessionalism, offhand language disguised as philosophy) to try to mask what is at their heart a story we’ve heard before. Both followed on the heels of books that had seemed significantly more ambitious, and yet received less attention. Both pose in new clothes while in the same exhausted what-is-human light.
feel like the way he described leaving the atocha station is what i felt towards how should a person be? ie. ‘a parade of ego/jeering-fawning depression’ & ‘false, inwardly idea of self’. i would describe this book as having ‘an inflated sense of self & self-importance’ i think but i also feel bad saying that / having read blake’s criticism of leaving the atocha station i re-read a few chapters and still maintain ‘firm’ position that it came across as a sincere portrayal/well-balanced self-deprecation intelligence etc
there were some good parts, i laughed a lot at the beginning and folded a lot of pages. i think very specific kinds of people would enjoy this book. like girls who earnestly watch/re-blog gossip girl gifs but also perceive themselves as being ‘above it’
general vibe ‘talking about being concerned about what other people think as if you don’t really care what they think/but talking about it way more than someone who actually didn’t care would talk about it’ quoting ben, talking about this book on skype now
felt like i ‘power-walked’ towards the end of this one
finished: 10th december 2012
ps. an amusing link that google threw up when i googled ben lerner: sheila heti reviews ben lerner
THE NO HELLOS DIET BY SAM PINK
this is the first book by sam pink that i have read, i borrowed this book from laurens over this weekend when we hung out at his place in brighton
i read this last night from ~2am to 4am, it felt easy/’light’ enough to read while still engaging your ‘existential faculties’
it is written entirely in the second person which intruded upon the narrative to a lesser degree than i thought it would. after a while you stop noticing it. and i guess since the ‘reader’ is being addressed all the time it encourages a stronger sense that you are able to relate to the text
felt like this book was similar to ‘everything’s fine’ by socrates adam, being stuck in a similarly meaningless/mundane job where most of your time is spent mindlessly organizing/keeping up the structure of the company, documentations of the shitty interactions with co-workers. from memory it seemed like the narrator of ‘everything’s fine’ was ‘intentionally’ funny or had humorous observations, whereas in ‘the no hellos diet’ you realize you’re laughing to yourself because ‘god damn it, this is so true brb while i try to kill myself’. less plot-driven in ‘the no hellos diet’ as well, i feel like i like that better
identified with the narrator’s desire to minimize interactions, feeling like everything that has happened has already happened, how strange it is to admit to yourself that sometimes it’s worth going outside and meeting people/sometimes not/sometimes difficult to tell
‘barely saying enough to the other employees to constitute being an object that’s different than all other objects.
sometimes you think people are surprised when you talk. not because it’s interesting, but because they didn’t realize anyone else was in the room. like you appear from nowhere, holding a broom. (sometimes it surprises you as well, admit it.) conversations don’t happen.’
reading this reminded me of the months i spent working at a salad bar last year and found it difficult to relate to, but would attempt anyway, the other members of the staff who had their own version of games/inside jokes/small routines to reduce the mundanity. tried to make sense of things. entertaining thoughts of death not as a cry for help but in the same way you’d plan to have a yogurt for breakfast, a future likelihood
‘moral’ of the story: life is just something that happens to you
finished 3 december 2012